From the beginning of time we have experienced natural disasters of unimaginable magnitude and loss of human life. These occurrences continue, no matter the preparations we make to protect ourselves, and many disasters can strike unexpectedly.As the saying goes, history repeats itself. Christianity, one of the largest faith movements on Earth, believes that our entire civilization faces the worst natural disasters (and wars, famine, and disease) in future years still to come, warnings recorded in the Bible.
Whatever is going on, let’s take a look back, both historically and in our modern day, at the top floods, earthquakes, fires, and other deadly disasters that have taken the lives of countless people and wiped cities, towns, and populations completely from the map.
Syria 8.5 Magnitude Earthquake – 1138
Loss of life: 230,000. On October 11, 1138, an earthquake of an estimated at 8.5 magnitude struck Aleppo, Syria (Aleppo sits in Northern Syria on the northwest corner of the Dead Sea). Aleppo suffered extensive damage. A foreshock had hit the day before, on October 10th. Many of the townspeople took it as a warning and fled to the countryside for safety, before the deadly quake hit on October 11th. 230,000 people are believed to have lost their lives both in Aleppo and nearby towns.
What can we learn from this? These Syrians living in Aleppo in 1138 understood the dangers posed by their living structures. When threatened with a major earthquake, it may be best to leave the area, even for many people in the modern age, rather than risk being crushed by crumbling buildings and homes.
Central China Floods – 1931
Loss of life: 1-4 million. In Central China, a two year drought was followed by markedly abnormal precipitation and weather. In July alone, the area was pummeled with seven cyclones, almost quadruple the norm. The Yangtze and Huai Rivers swelled and spilled over their banks and dikes. Death came through drowning or succumbing to waterborne diseases. Severe desperation by survivors brought on acts of cannibalism and infanticide.
What can we learn from this? If you live in an area near a major river or river system, there is always the risk that abnormal or “thousand year” weather event taking place (meaning, once in a thousand year occurrence, such as the Colorado floods that caused so much devastation in Colorado in September, 2013).
Hwang Ho River, China – 1887
Loss of life: 900,000 – 2,000,000. The Hwang Ho River, known as the “Yellow River”, travels over 3,395 miles from the Bayan Har Mountains to the Bohai Sea. The river assisted in the dawn of China’s very existence but also its many woes. Around the end of September, 1887, the river overflowed the dikes located in China’s Henan Province. The low lying land was quickly overcome by the waters devastating eleven large towns and hundreds of smaller villages. The flood and ensuing disease and famine claimed between 900,000 to 2,000,000 lives.
What can we learn from this? See above. Notice that the same even that struck the Hwang Ho River in 1887 is the same kind of event that struck central China in 1931.
Shaanxi Earthquake – 1556
Loss of life: 830,000Shaanxi, China still holds the record for the deadliest earthquake in history. Though stronger quakes have occurred, this disaster devastated the densely populated area. The majority of people in the area up to the time of the quake resided in man made caves dug out of silt-like soil in the hillsides around the area, called yaodongs. Countless lives were lost when these dwellings collapsed. The 8.0 magnitude earthquake also triggered landslides, further adding to the death toll.
What can we learn from this? Following the disaster, survivors of the Shaanxi earthquake looked to wood and bamboo as a means of rebuilding safer dwellings. At the same time, any area that can suffer a major earthquake in the near future (think earthquake prone areas of the world that sit on fault lines) may not be a good place to build homes at the top, or on the side, or at the bottom of hills, due to the threat of landslides. Consider that the next time you want to move to a house in the hills — could a major earthquake strike the region, because it sits along a fault line?
Bhola Cyclone, East Pakistan (Bangladesh) – 1970
Loss of life: 500,000. The Bhola Cyclone struck November 12, 1970 in East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh) and India’s West Bengal. It still holds the record as the deadliest cyclone ever. Half a million people perished largely due to flooding in the region. Nearly three quarters of the local fisherman perished in the storm while many of the survivors were left injured. Interestingly, seven of the nine most deadly tropical storms have struck Bangladesh. Presently, warning systems are in effect, allowing residents to flee to higher ground.
What can we learn from this? If you live in a coastal region, that has seen storms and flooding in the past, you may want to move inland, considering the likelihood of another major cyclone striking at some point.
Great Tangshan Earthquake – 1976
Loss of life: 242,000. In the early morning hours of July 28, 1976, a violent 7.8 earthquake hit Tangshan, China. With most people tucked in bed, many were crushed by their own homes before they could react. A large industry in the area is mining and, ironically, only those deep in the earth working, resurfaced unharmed. Some 1,900 miners were fatally killed sleeping in their beds or from falling structures above ground. Just short of 80% of Tangshan’s buildings were flattened or condemned as well as collapsed bridges, destroyed rail lines, and damaged wells. Today the city has been rebuilt and boasts a population of over one million people.
What can we learn from this? Is your home or building up to modern earthquake codes? Do you live along a fault line that experts say could experience an earthquake? Surviving a major earthquake event can really only come down to building construction and where you choose to live. As your home or building shakes, prayers for protection probably wouldn’t hurt either.
Haiti Earthquake – 2010
Loss of life: 300,000. The massive Haitian earthquake hit January 12, 2010. The magnitude 7.0 quake came with a whopping fifty-nine aftershocks. Survivors took to the streets, moved into cars and created shanty houses, fearful of the stability of any remaining structures. The Haitian government claims over 300,000 lives were lost. Soon after the initial quake a tsunami warning was issued. Mercifully, the fear was short-lived and the warning was canceled. Just 10 months following the earthquake devastation, a Cholera outbreak began and continues today.Over 8,000 additional lives have been lost. Hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced by the earthquake, with many people today still living in makeshift tent cities, and dependent on foreign aid for food and medical help.
Following the earthquake, rape became a widespread occurrence, with reports of men raiding tents (in these tent cities that had sprung up following the quake). Women and young girls are taken, likely still to this day in places, even as families watch, often unwilling to intervene. Additional reports have been made that fathers and brothers of some of these female rape victims have been murdered in advance, to prevent them from stepping in to protect their daughters and sisters from rape at a later date.
What can we learn from this? Life following the Haiti earthquake shows that some elements of humanity can turn into absolute animals and pose a serious threat in the wake of disaster. Families with females should take extra precaution to protect from the threat of rape. Some of you reading this may not like this fact, but to ignore this risk is to put yourself and your family in peril.
Coringa, India Cyclone – 1839
Loss of life: 300,000. Coringa, once a lively international shipping port in Andhra Pradesh, India, was essentially made desolate in 1839. On the 25th of November, a devastating cyclone struck the populated trading town. A storm surge increased the shore water level by forty feet. Some 20,000 boats and ships within the bay were destroyed. The storm, with violent winds and drowning waters, took the lives of 300,000 people. Little else is recorded about this storm.
What can we learn from this? Time and time again, we continue to see that populated areas of the world, near an ocean, can face devastating flood waters following a cyclone, typhoon, or hurricane, all similar weather events, just differing in name by where they strike in the world (location). Only relocation inland, well in advance, seems to be the best course of action.
Vietnam-Haiphong Typhoon – 1881
Loss of life: 300,000. Haiphong, located in North Eastern Vietnam suffered terrible flooding and destruction on October 8th, 1881. As the powerful tropical cyclone hit the Gulf of Tonkin, tidal waves made their way to the low-lying coastal town. Some sources claim residents refused to head inland despite warnings. Tragically, by the time the storm surge hit, many could not escape. A reported 300,000 died.
What can we learn from this? This sounds a lot like the story of the “boy who cried wolf”. The warnings to evacuate had probably long before been heard over the years, in the wake of possible storms, and what happened in 1881 was the consequence of failing to evacuate, even after yet another warning that a typhoon was coming. A large number of people lost their lives that day. Maybe it’s smarter to listen to warnings? Whether they come from news stations, your neighbor that old fisherman who has seen a lot of weather events over the years, or even a weather radio tuned to storm reports, listen to those warnings, and then take appropriate action.